AP Sports Writer
IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) -- Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz has never paid much attention to recruiting rankings.
That's a trait that could serve him well this week.
The Hawkeyes announced their latest class on Wednesday, a group that recruiting services have rated near the bottom of the Big Ten. The 21-player class is ranked 52nd nationally by both Rivals.com and Scout.com, though Rivals has the class slotted eighth in the league while Scout ranks it 10th out of the 12 Big Ten schools.
Those aren't the kind of numbers likely to excite a fan base that watched Iowa finish last season with six straight losses and a 4-8 record. But coach Kirk Ferentz said he couldn't tell much difference between this year's class and last year's -- which was ranked in the top half of the league.
Ferentz also doesn't think the disappointing 2012 season had much, if any, impact, on this latest class.
"It's funny. I think players to look much broader than one season or one game," Ferentz said. "We felt awfully positive about selling a lot of things about this program ... so I'm not sure it really impacted us all that much."
After a dismal season throwing the ball, the Hawkeyes announced on Monday week that wide receivers coach Erik Campbell has left the program. Though Iowa has yet to name Campbell's replacement, it loaded up on receivers.
Iowa signed five wideouts, including a rare junior college transfer who could see immediate playing time in Damond Powell and a back, St. Louis product Johnathan Parker, who could also line up as a receiver.
Powell, a 5-foot-11, 180-pound junior, averaged an astounding 30 yards per catch on 41 receptions last season at Snow (Utah) Community College. He could get plenty of touches in 2013 for a team bereft of playmakers.
Ferentz identified Powell as a player most likely to jump into a starting role, while also acknowledging that a running back could emerge given the program's recent poor history at that spot.
"That showed up last year. Just an area that we needed to fortify a little bit and improve on," Ferentz said about wide receiver. "They're not only guys that could get open, but guys we felt could catch the ball and then hopefully do something with it afterward."
The quarterback in this year's class is Texas-born Nic Shimonek, who is 6-foor-4 and threw for 2,714 yards and 33 touchdowns and rushed for 850 more as a senior.
Shimonek will almost certainly redshirt because sophomore Jake Rudock, junior college transfer Cody Sokol and redshirt freshman C.J. Beathard are ahead of him on the depth chart.
Though Shimonek has put up big prep numbers as a runner, Ferentz said that offensive coordinator Greg Davis was sold after seeing his passing skills in person.
"He's a good athlete...got good height, good size. The first thing that comes to mind I think is that he's a thrower," Ferentz said.
The eight new players currently pegged for defense include a pair of 280-pound linemen in Nathan Bazata and Brant Gressel -- though Ferentz acknowledged he would have liked to have found another end.
Iowa also found three linebackers to help replace three senior starters at that spot; John Kenny, Decorah's Josey Jewell and Reggie Spearman, and three defensive backs; Malik Rucker, Solomon Warfield and Desmond King, who are all at least 5-foot-11.
Though the rankings for this year's class appear down, few coaches from power conferences have had more success than Ferentz in developing unheralded recruits.
Part of the reason Iowa doesn't put as much into recruiting rankings is because the Hawkeyes pride themselves on being a developmental program -- and it should have enough upperclassmen depth to allow this group to develop at its own pace.
The Hawkeyes will have eight starters back on offense and seven on defense. The healthy return of players like offensive lineman Brandon Scherff and running back Mark Weisman could dramatically alter the look of a team that finished with six straight losses.
But in the past few seasons, Iowa has also had to lean on freshmen a bit earlier than they would have liked.
So there's a decent chance the Hawkeyes might need a few of these newcomers to emerge ahead of schedule -- and above their recruiting ranking.
"There are a lot of guys with records and ability. But it's what they do once they take that next step," Ferentz said. "It's really how the guys meet the challenge once they get to college, how they embrace all the hard work that's going to be involved."
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